Tuesday, 8 September 2015

LIT FIEND INTERVIEW [#8]


It has been quite a while since my last interview with Dave Roskos, so this is long overdue! I won't make any excuses, instead I will cut right to the chase. Giving up precious time from his busy schedule to answer my trite and mundane questions is writer, film buff, Murder Slim Press head honcho, and all round top bloke Steve Hussy...

For those not already in the know, what is Murder Slim Press?

We’ve been called a bunch of different things. The most emasculating was a “micro-press” and the best one was “grit-lit.” The simplest answer is MSP is a publisher who focuses on darkly realistic crime and confessional stories. We also have a swanky website – murderslim.com – with reviews and Jeffrey P. Frye’s ongoing Bank Robber’s Blog.



How did a guy from a suburban town in Norfolk come to publish gritty American outsider fiction?

Great Yarmouth is a seaside dump, so I’ve seen my fair share of shit. But it’s really due to the internet. In the past, zines like Jim Goad’s Answer ME! had to be localised due to the limitations of the postal system. I learnt print design and how to program websites when I was a kid and so it wasn’t too hard to develop a decent looking murderslim.com when MSP started in 2004.

If you build it, they will come. And many of those are savvy readers searching for something new.


What was it that drew you to 'outsider' writing?

Again, this started when I was young. I was a Film student and the guy next door was a 25 year-old ex-Marine called Brad who had been in the first Gulf War. We became friends. I cursed those thin walls, though, as he talked to his own cock when he masturbated. Brad was studying Creative Writing for a year in the UK and was deeply into Bukowski and Henry Miller. That planted a seed.

The joke is that it took another friend – my co-editor at MSP – to lend me the books a few years later before I read them. I still don’t like Miller, but I explored all the other outsider writers and a bunch more besides. I was also always a fuck-up who drank a lot and liked to be alone.

Tell me a little about your lit mag The Savage Kick...

The jist of THE SAVAGE KICK is the stories rely on action and dialogue. I keep repeating this to a lot of submittors who don’t seem to understand that description is usually boring. I have little interest in what a room looks like and you should be able to sum up how someone looks in a few lines. The stories should move at a breakneck speed.

The rest of SK has interviews with key underground writers and artists. And the design MUST look good... I obsess over that. Each issue has a distinctive look.



One of the things I hate about running a lit zine myself is the amount of rejections I have to send out. It's never an easy thing to do. Do you get a lot of submissions? Is there a secret to sending out rejections without crushing people's hopes and dreams (or is that just par for the course?)

We typically get more submissions than sales each month. When we started, we got up to fifty submissions a month. In 2005, writers sought to get their stuff into print because it was before the days of Kindle, Lulu and other self-publishing avenues. Even back then, most writers realised accept-all websites like LauraHird.com were meaningless fluff.

To begin with, many submissions were awful. But I only ever snapped and wrote rants when writers didn’t read our guidelines. We were sent lots of poems, flowery language, horror fan fiction (one with Vampirella) and a “fifty stanza ultra-crime poem.” I didn’t mind crushing those dreams... or, at least, trying to.

Since those crazies can now self-publish their own shit, we get writers who are more receptive to criticism. So I dutifully read each submission and send a little response. Often the criticisms are simply that the story doesn’t suit THE SAVAGE KICK. They aren’t pacy enough, or they use too many adverbs and adjectives, or they get stuck in lengthy descriptions.

If there’s any secret, it’s just to inform the writers what you want and don’t call them a cunt unless they really deserve it.

What was the last novel/piece of writing you read that you wished you'd had the chance to publish? 

Mainstream-wise, it would be THE FREE by Willy Vlautin. It’s even better than his first novel, THE MOTEL LIFE. He captures honest emotions. But in my world I’ll pick two.

The first is SAGUARO by Carson Mell. That was just a case of finding the guy too late, after finding his brilliant TARANTULA cartoons on YouTube. Even now they have a piss-poor amount of views in relation to their quality... 10,000 or so. Luckily some people in TV saw his work and he wrote for EASTBOUND AND DOWN’s final season and he now writes for SILICON VALLEY. SAGUARO had some crazily low print run and was self-published years ago. I would have walked over hot coals to publish it... it’s great, naturalistic writing and very funny.

The other is DRUGS by J.R. Helton, which is my fault. We’d taken J.R.’s story HALLOWEEN for THE SAVAGE KICK #5 and I started talking to J.R. via email. I read his BELOW THE LINE, a behind the scenes view of film-making that – of course – fascinated me. J.R. then sent me DRUGS (complete with the cover by Robert Crumb!) – I suppose with an eye to publishing it – and I read it and liked it a lot but didn’t connect with some of the early drug stuff. I asked whether cuts would be possible. J.R. wisely went elsewhere and the book did well. And it deserved to... he’s an excellent writer. I just fucked up.

As a writer yourself do you find that running the press/mag is a hindrance to your own writing or does it spur you on to write more?

The hindrance is time. It takes time to proof check and design books, but those processes are usually relaxing. Marketing is a constant thing, you’re pushing against a wall of apathy and laziness. Why buy a book from an author you haven’t heard of when shitty known authors stare at you from supermarket shelves, appear on daytime TV and are reviewed by all the major newspapers? You have to try to persuade readers to take a dangerous step outside.

Weirdly, the whole process just makes me write less commercial stuff about the strangest of people I meet. I write as a “fuck you” to the average stuff that doesn’t push boundaries. My main problem with productivity is that I have to wait for someone new and odd to present themselves. They always do, but it can take a while.

Which writers were/are the biggest influence on your own writing?

I read a lot as a child. It was a quiet world to escape to. My favourite book from then was I AM DAVID by Anne Holm. It’s about a kid who escapes from a concentration camp and has to survive on his own in the world. It’s written with a simplistic beauty that still holds up today. I also read PEANUTS a hell of a lot - Charlie Brown is a great character - and a huge amount of comics. They taught me a lot about pace and interested me in characters who don’t fit in. Guys like Frank Miller, Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko also fuelled my interest in design.

That flowed into hard-boiled noir like Chandler and Hammett, which fed into Jim Thompson, and then (of course) there was Bukowski and the Fantes and Celine. I still read comics too, and love guys like Dan Clowes, Joe Matt and Harvey Pekar. Will Eisner was also fantastic, with an incredible eye for catching how people move, act and talk.

If you could get drunk with (or have dinner with if you're not a drinker) any three people, dead or alive, who would they be?

I’d get drunk with anyone as long as they don’t have hidden weapons.

Here goes on three: Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Robert Crumb and Nicolas Winding Refn. One for each of my loves, and each with a strange and complex personality.

I’d say Bukowski and Sam Peckinpah but I wouldn’t want them drunk around anything that could be turned into a weapon. My thee guys would fully open up with some booze and not try to kill me.


As well as publishing fiction I understand you're somewhat of a movie buff, what are your all time favourites?

Holy shit, that’s tough. Well, my dayjob is teaching film and I’ve done it for 15 years. But I also try to watch a movie a day. I usually get through about 300 a year.

I have a lot of favourite movies but I really seem to go for the movies that focus intensely on one or two main characters. They’re usually about people on the brink of insanity.

I’ll list ten and then regret missing some out, but these are the ones I’ve watched the most:

THE VANISHING (1988 version), THEY LIVE, THE QUIET EARTH, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, DRIVE, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, TAXI DRIVER, THE THIRD MAN, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, PSYCHO (1960).

Here are a few less heralded ones that are great too:

GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD, ARMY OF SHADOWS, DEAD MAN, THE LOST WEEKEND, GHOST DOG, DAY OF THE DEAD, LE TROU, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, REPO MAN, PUSHER 3, THE THING (1982 version), BLAST OF SILENCE, NIGHTMARE ALLEY...

Urgh, I could go on. Those are all 10/10 movies and there are a lot more. We’re spoilt now with DVDs, blu-rays and the internet. You can get hold of pretty much every movie that they have a master print of. It’s the perfect time to be a film fan.

What is your stance on literary film adaptations?

The key is to try and shut off the part of your brain that wants to compare it to the novel. I’ve fallen foul of that in the past, and it’s masochistic. Movies condense the text because of time constraints and it’s hard to get across characters’ inner voices without tedious voiceovers.

I think Bent Hamer did a great job on FACTOTUM and BARFLY, with its script straight from Bukowski, is a real favourite. CRAZY LOVE is decent. TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS is shit, and WAIT UNTIL SPRING BANDINI and ASK THE DUST only have their moments.

THE MOTEL LIFE is good with only a few flaws. HUNGER is excellent. DRIVE is even better than Sallis’s book and COLD IN JULY is only slightly not as great as Lansdale’s novel. And so on...

There are so many factors and people that go into making a movie, a screenplay or novel does well to survive it all. I just try to watch every one with as blank as slate as I can muster up.

Recent Murder Slim novella The Migrant by u.v.ray was nominated for a 2015 Saboteur Award (and finished in second place), that must have been a proud moment for you? 

It was nice. u.v. has been writing balls-out stuff for a long time, and he deserved the recognition. Of course he should have won, but second place ain’t bad. I also love the idea of the Saboteur Awards and they were incredibly polite and pleasant, which I appreciate.

It was gratifying coming from the English Arts Council too. u.v. is British, as am I along with a number of writers in THE SAVAGE KICK. But because our output is predominantly American, I suppose we sit between two stalls... happily, though, because I’d rather print the best stuff rather than care about its country of origin.

What has been your proudest moment as a publisher? 

The primary one was publishing HATING OLIVIA. Mark SaFranko sent us the novel just after we had taken his ROLE OF A LIFETIME for THE SAVAGE KICK #1. We had planned to start publishing novels years later when we knew what we were doing. But we (there was four of us back then) loved the book so much we had to figure out how to publish it. The printers turned out to be fucking idiots, but we finally got Mark’s masterpiece out there.

Beyond that, the range and high quality of authors and artists we’ve attracted to THE SAVAGE KICK is very gratifying. And I’ve got the chance to interview guys like Mark, Seymour Shubin (who became a great friend), Dan Fante, Jim Goad, Doug Stanhope, Joe R. Lansdale and a lot more.

What does the future hold for Steve Hussy and Murder Slim Press?

For me: More teaching to make ends meet and more watching movies and reading books. And, as usual, more stories (including a novel) about life as a professional boozer and the people I meet.

For Murder Slim Press: SK#8 just needs its artwork, Mark’s next Zajack novel is on the way, u.v. is working on another novella, and Jeffrey P. Frye will continue to be a major focus. I love his work.

Jeff unfortunately happened to rob seven banks and forgot to wear a mask, but he’s turning lemons into lemonade. He’s wisely passing his twenty years in federal prison by his Bank Robber’s Blog, as well as short stories and novellas... all of which we publish. Next up, he’s about to finish his novel THE LIFE OF RILEY.

Jeff’s work consistently make me open my eyes and think. He writes serious stuff with deft skill but he also makes people laugh. You can’t teach comic timing... Jeff just has it in spades.

Overall, the main thing is to keep going. Both myself and Murder Slim Press will be here as long as people buy the books... and as long as Lucy Liver holds out against the barrage of red wine, ruby port, martini rosso and cheap gin.

Stay up to date with all things Murder Slim on their website and get updates on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Steve's short story 'Dickless' will appear in PAPER AND INK LITERARY ZINE ISSUE #6 which is out next week.

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